Three weeks in Korea
Ashik Muhammad Shafi
The last time I visited abroad was ten years ago when I went to Saudi Arabia. Memories of that trip are very hard to remember now. So, when I first got the invitation to fly to South Korea last July, it was a novel experience for me.
The National Youth Commission of Korea (NYC) invited six students from Bangladesh to join the 'Youth Camp for Asia's Future', last from the 7th to the 27th of August 2006. First the NYC contacted the Ministry of youth in Bangladesh who asked different universities to nominate students. Eventually six of us got the Korean visa: myself, student of the department of Mass Communication and Journalism, DU; the singer among us, Arifur Rahman Jyoti (Institute of Education and Research, DU); the guy who knows seven languages, Shariful Islam Shahin (Anthropology, DU); the smart young journalist Mijanur Rahman (Political Science, DU); Talat Mahmud Shahanshah (Notre Dame College), who previously traveled to various other countries, and the ever smiling, ever talkative and ever advising Asma Jahan Mukta
(Institute of Education and Research, DU).
The youth camp had 250 participants from 18 different countries. Among them were Korea (50), Bangladesh (6), Brunei (5), Cambodia (15), India (5), Indonesia (15), Kazakhstan (15), Laos (15), Malaysia (15), Mongolia (15), Myanmar (10), Pakistan (9), Philippines (15), Singapore (5), Sri Lanka (10), Thailand (14), Uzbekistan (15) and Vietnam (15). So you guys can guess how unique the experience was.
Back on the 7th of August, at around 5 pm, in the busy but gorgeous airport in Incheon city in South Korea, we passed through the immigration desk and were out under the open sky of Korea. Several Korean guys waving the banner of our program came to welcome us. Later we went to Tower Hotel, at the centre of Seoul. It took us one and a half hour by an official bus.
On the night of the 8th of August, youths from each of the eighteen countries wore their respective traditional dresses and attended the opening ceremony of the event. The students from Uzbekistan wore a single colored coat with golden embroidery. The Pakistani students wore sherwanies while we unanimously decided to wear our traditional punjabi, lungi or sari, which was praised by other participants.
On the following day we went to KTS centre, the top cellular phone operator of the country. The KTS offers very high capacity data exchange so that people can perform various activities on mobile phones. At noon, we went to Changdeokgung Palace, which is at the centre of the city and is considered a symbol of Seoul.
Situated at the centre of this modern city of Seoul, the Changdeokgung Palace and Gyongbokgung Palace depict a charming contrast between heritage and stunning economic development. It was a sunny, hectic day but the tired participants were fully refreshed by a buffet dinner at the nearby University of Donguk. Dear readers, you may be appalled to know that the item that I found the tastiest among the 35 dishes was boiled octopus!
Two days later, on August 12, we attended a fair titled 'Asian Youth Festival', participated by eighteen countries. Each got a booth and the participants decorated the booths with their traditional handicrafts, showpieces, dresses, food items and posters. We displayed our dry sweets in the form of 'gur', 'achar', 'muri', 'chanachur' and 'morbba', and the Korean visitors tasted these with relish.
The next day all the participants, in a convoy of seven buses, went to the industrial city of Ansan, which contains familiar companies like Samsung, Hyundai, Kia, LG and Daewoo. We, the six Bangladeshi students met many of our 'deshi bhais' there and spoke to them for a long time. There we found an Indian restaurant, and after seven days enjoyed 'dal', 'beef jhol' and 'ata ruti', even though the meals costed us six dollars each.
A day later we visited The National Museum of Korea.
Among hundreds of art and craftworks, drawings, paintings, preserved specimens of ancient ammunition, dresses, coins and buildings; I most liked a 30 feet high pagoda built in 1348. I also noted down a verse written below a painting by some Kim Hong Do (1745-1808) describing the beauty of a season:
'A crane is flying at late night,
It is as quiet as the autumn sky,
With the greenish peach blossoms under the mountain,
The spring is half begun.
'The next day we went to the Seoul World Cup stadium! As you can guess, it was a very special experience for us. We were shown the player's dressing rooms, rest rooms, the room for media representatives, offices and also the world cup museum where there were contemporary photos, posters and press clippings of football matches. Then we got down on the field, right where the World Cup 2002 opening ceremony was held! The officials there informed us that each ticket was then priced at 50,000 US dollars! At night we went on a tour of the Han River by a cruise boat. The experience was very exciting, as the participants were lost under the twinkling of hundreds of stars and watched the vast gleaming nightlife of Seoul, the second largest 'Metropolis' in Asia. Some of us Bangladeshis, Indians and Pakistanis together set our emotion in tune as we began to sing popular Hindi songs in chorus, much to the surprise of the others.
The next day we attended the Asian Youth Congress held at our hotel and at the nearby Donguk University. At the morning session, one participant on behalf of each country presented their national report, a ten-minute speech describing the key world issues in light of the respective country. In the afternoon session, a number of subgroups, consisting of twenty members each, engaged in an indoor discussion on various topics such as globalization, employment, environment and regional cooperation. The programs were enjoyable because I listened to interpretations of one topic from so many different angles and perspectives.
Three days before coming back, we experienced rafting in the Odaecheon Stream in Pyeongchang city. These and other such fascinating moments continued till 6th of August, our last day in Korea. It seemed everybody was trying not to be unhappy with the bitterness of departure. At 10 in the night, after all the officials programs were over, everyone was emotional and suddenly got busy taking photos.
On the 27th of August, we came back. I will finish off with a funny incident. During the three weeks of our stay, I had spoken only in English with only a few Bengali words spoken among our own group. One day after I landed in Dhaka, I was going to DU campus from my home in Mirpur. The bus reached Nilkhet, where I had to ask the driver to stop. I stood up and said loudly in English: 'Can I get down here?' The driver, contactor and other people stared at me in surprise as I quickly corrected myself and switched to Bengali.